My intent was to cover both wild-card playoff games this weekend just like I did last season. But all the Sunday-morning flights from Houston to Baltimore cut it too close for me to make the 1 p.m. kickoff at M&T Bank Stadium, especially if there are any delays. So, former AFC North blogger James Walker will make a cameo appearance on the blog Saturday, when he covers the Bengals at the Texans. I will remain in Baltimore, where it will likely be Ray Lewis' final home game. Now, let's get your Friday started with the wake-up call ...
RAVENS: There's some uncertainty surrounding the status of Pro Bowl fullback Vonta Leach. He was the only Baltimore player who didn't practice Thursday. Leach was limited in practice Wednesday before sitting out the next day. Meanwhile, quarterback Joe Flacco is approaching the playoffs with a certain level of calmness. “People try to make a big deal about the playoffs and extra intensity that goes into it. I try not to buy into that stuff,” said Flacco, who has been to the playoffs in each of his first five seasons.
BENGALS: Undrafted rookie linebacker Vontaze Burfict has rewarded coach Marvin Lewis for taking a chance on him. Burfict led the Bengals with 127 tackles, which were the 15th-most in the NFL this season and ranked third amongst rookies. Only eight players had more tackles than Burfict after he earned the starting job in Week 3. Burfict also led the team with 7.5 tackles for loss. "We gave him a $1,000 signing bonus when we signed him, and that's only because I asked for that," Lewis said. "[Management] wasn't even willing to give him that much coming in."
STEELERS: Todd Haley had mixed results in his first season as the Steelers offensive coordinator. But that hasn't stopped him from becoming a candidate for the Cardinals' head-coaching vacancy. With Andy Reid apparently headed to the Chiefs, the Cardinals have reportedly received permission to interview Haley. Before being a head coach for the Chiefs and a coordinator with the Steelers, Haley was offensive coordinator for Arizona in the Cardinals' Super Bowl run in the 2008 season and has a good relationship with Cardinals president Michael Bidwill.
BROWNS: You can cross Penn State coach Bill O'Brien off the Browns' wish list. After interviewing with Cleveland this week, O'Brien has decided to stay at Penn State. It was believed that O'Brien was the Browns' second choice behind Oregon's Chip Kelly. The Browns are scheduled to talk to Kelly today, and the pressure to get him increased with O'Brien no longer in the picture. The Browns' chief competition for Kelly is likely the Eagles. Cleveland interviewed Syracuse coach Doug Marrone on Thursday.